A Beginner’s Guide to Cribbage

With an ideal mix of strategy and luck, cribbage is a game that has endured the test of time and won the adoration of millions since its inception in the early 17th century. The game is still played with most of the original rules intact and requires only two items to play – a standard deck of cards and a wood cribbage board.

Perhaps it is the ease of play that has kept this game popular for such a long time. A game can be played quickly and, with the portability of a wood cribbage board, can be easily set up for a match at a moment’s notice. It may have some quirky rules and odd cribbage terminology but make no mistake – cribbage is here to stay.

Why Should You Learn to Play Cribbage?

United Kingdom Cribbage Board

We can all agree that there is something to be said for a card game that has stood the test of time. There are plenty of more modern card games to play and certainly a plethora of board games to choose from, but cribbage holds its own against all others. There are a few reasons why the game has lasted, and you’ll be happy you looked past some of the cribbage terminologies and learned to play. 

5 Reasons to Play Cribbage

  1. Minimal equipment
  2. Minimal number of people needed
  3. Minimal amount of time to learn
  4. Minimal amount of time to play
  5. Wood cribbage boards are cool 

1. There is minimal equipment required to play.

The game of cribbage requires only a standard deck of cards and a wood cribbage board (or a pencil if you’re in a pinch). The wood cribbage board houses the pegs needed for scoring, so that is genuinely all that is needed to invite someone to a cribbage game. Make sure you choose a good quality cribbage board that will last for years of gameplay. The portability of the board also makes it a popular game for pop-up matches at the park, around the dinner table in the evening, or at your favorite locale while visiting the UK. 

2. It’s a good game for 2.

Woman and Man Play Cribbage

Two people are all that will be needed for a rousing game of cribbage. While more than two people can play, this makes a quiet evening for just yourself and that certain someone to snuggle up with a deck of cards and a wood cribbage board. Or you and your best friend can sit at a table and play – cribbage is flexible like that.

3. If you can count, it won’t take too long to learn.

Scoring the game is not very hard – keeping up with the unique cribbage terminology may be. Children take to cribbage easily and can practice their math skills while playing an iconic game. Learning numbers is one thing, but identifying the point combinations and calculating value on the wood cribbage board is a challenging skill that they will enjoy and find rewarding.

Unique Cribbage Terminology
  • Skunk
  • Crib
  • Nob
  • Heel
  • Muggins

If you are intrigued by the unique cribbage terminology used during play, just wait until you find out what those words actually mean! Each one of those cribbage terms has to do with scoring points, so you will want to familiarize yourself with them quickly.

4. The game itself is pretty quick.

The highly portable wood cribbage board is easy to set up, so you are ready to start playing before you can ask, “Who wants to play cribbage?” It’s a race to 121 points, so most games only take 15-30 minutes. Shuffle up and deal! It won’t take all evening, but you will probably be playing more than one game once you get started.

5. Wood cribbage boards are iconic and immediately recognizable.

Great Lakes Cribbage Board

Cribbage is a game that is typically enjoyed at a slower pace. There is no rush to finish the game, so there is more time to appreciate the wood cribbage board serving as the centerpiece of the game. Wood cribbage boards come in a variety of designs for the background to the peg holes that wander the board and lead the winner to the 121st hole.

What a Beginner Should Know About a Wood Cribbage Board

There are beautiful wood cribbage boards that have become family heirlooms and are passed down for generations. These boards also come with stunning designs, including maps with a nautical vibe that can be a fun distraction while you are waiting your turn. Imagine distracting your opponent with a mesmerizing wood cribbage board etched with all of the points of interest found in the United Kingdom, the birthplace of the game of cribbage!

The wood cribbage board itself has rows with “game holes” for the pegs used in keeping score. Some boards have two continuous rows of 121 holes, one row for each player, while some wood cribbage boards have four rows of 30 holes each. The board typically comes with four pegs in two contrasting colors. As the player scores, they advance their peg along their row, counting one hole per point.

5 Steps to a Beginners Game of Cribbage

  1. Determine who deals
  2. Create the crib
  3. Turn the starter card
  4. Begin play
  5. Win

1. Cut the deck to determine who deals.

Person Cuts a Deck of Cards

The deck is cut and each player gets a card. The player with the low card is the dealer; most cribbage games place kings high and aces low, so drawing an ace would put you at the lowest end of the deck. Once the dealer is determined, they reshuffle the deck and deal out six cards to each player.

2. Discarded cards create the crib.

Each player is dealt six cards and, after looking at them, “lays away” two cards to the crib, so they are left with four cards in their hands. In cribbage terminology, the “crib” belongs to the dealer, but none of the cards are exposed until the hands have been played. (If there are only two players, that would be after the opponent and the dealer have both played.) The crib is made up of two discarded cards from each player for a total of four cards in the crib.

3. Cut the deck to get a starter card.

After the crib is laid away, the non-dealer cuts the deck. The top card of the lower deck is placed face up on the top of that deck. This card is the “starter.” If the turned card is a jack, (“his heels” in cribbage terminology), the dealer pegs two points immediately.

4. Now play can begin.

Hilton Head Cribbage Board

The non-dealer starts by laying one of their cards face up on the table and announcing the number of points (or pips) achieved out loud. For example, if the non-dealer starts with a five, they say “five.” The dealer then lays a card face up and reads aloud the pips achieved in addition to those previously achieved. If the dealer lays down a nine, they say, “Fourteen.” Kings, queens, and jacks count for ten pips while every other card counts its face value; aces count as one.

The running total of cards cannot go past 31. If one player cannot add another card without exceeding 31, the player says “Go,” and the opponent pegs one point on the wood cribbage board. After getting the “Go,” the opponent must then lay down any additional cards without going past 31. After scoring the point for “Go,” the opponent can then score additional points made through pairs and runs. If the opponent scores exactly 31, they peg two points instead of one for the “Go.” 

Additional Point Combinations for Cribbage

  • Fifteen: for adding a card that makes the total 15 – peg 2
  • Pair: for adding a card the same rank as the card just played – peg 2
  • Triplet: for adding a third card of the same rank – peg 6
  • Four: for adding the fourth card of the same rank – peg 12 

Additional points can also be pegged for a “run” or “sequence.” That is when adding a card to those just played creates a sequence of three, four, or five. You peg as many points as there were cards in your sequence – 3, 4, or 5.

5. Count your points to confirm your win.

Close up of People Playing Cribbage

When no more cards can be used without going over 31, the round is over, and points are counted. When play is over, the three hands are counted in order: the non-dealer, the dealer, and then the crib. The starter is part of each hand, so all three hands consist of five cards. 

The Perfect Score is 29

The point combination to achieve a perfect score is as rare as a hole-in-one in golf, but it does exist. The highest possible score for a single cribbage deal is 29. There is one way that can be achieved, and it is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence!

Count your pips carefully after each hand. The optional rule of “muggins” may apply, and that means you can lose points that you earned during the current deal. Each player must count their hand (and crib) and announce the total out loud. In cribbage terminology, this means that if your opponent sees that you have overlooked points and failed to count them, they can say “muggins” and take those points for themselves!

How Do You Know the Cribbage Game is Over?

The game will end at a pre-determined total – either 121 or 61 points. The game is over when either player reaches the agreed-upon total. If the non-dealer “goes out” (reaches the total) by the count of their hand, the game immediately ends, and the dealer does not score their hand or the crib.

Worst. Ending. Ever.

Close Up of Cribbage Board with Hands Shuffling Cards

There are a few game endings that you absolutely want to avoid. The cribbage terminology for “loser” is a bit…colorful. If a player wins the game before the loser has passed the halfway mark, the loser is “lurched,” and the winner pegs two game wins instead of one. If you are playing to 121 points and the loser has not passed 91 when the winner has been declared, the loser has been “skunked.” The loser is “double skunked” if they did not make it to the halfway point, 61 points or more.

Gaining Skills for Cribbage as a Beginner

It won’t take long until you are no longer trying to survive each hand and counting points with your fingers and toes. You will be excelling in no time – learning cribbage terminology and recognizing the strategies you need to apply to your game. This is one of the big draws of cribbage – it is a masterful combination of skill and luck!

During the play, you will begin to take note of cards you don’t want to discard in the crib. You will learn that laying out fives or a pair is a bad idea as the dealer will turn those into points quicker than you can say skunk! When you appreciate that a king and an ace are the best cards you can discard to the crib, you may no longer be a beginner. 

How Do I Get Started Playing Cribbage?

New Orleans Cribbage Board

Start by getting yourself a high-quality wood cribbage board and a fresh standard deck of cards. A board is exactly the handcrafted gift you need to show opponents that you are bringing it – each and every time. Watch a few YouTube videos for instructions and tips, learn the nuances of cribbage terminology, and get an app on your phone that lets you practice playing. You will develop skills quickly and with confidence, and then you will be ready to go looking for worthy opponents.

Cribbage is still as popular as ever, so finding people to play with will not be too difficult. Then, you’ll want to teach your friends and family. Suddenly you will find that you are playing on every family vacation and commemorating your time around the gaming table with the wood cribbage board that matches your favorite destinations – the Great Lakes, Hilton Head, and New Orleans will be the first in your collection.

Game Night will never be the same after you discover your latest addiction is cribbage. But with a beautiful wood cribbage board that celebrates your last visit to the UP, you’ll have your opponent distracted with fun facts about the Great Lakes, and you’ll be cleaning up on points in no time! Beginner status doesn’t last for long, so enjoy the experience of learning one of the oldest and most iconic games this world has to offer.

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